The Perils of Timely Fiction

About two years ago, I was flying with my family and I noticed that, when we landed, all I could hear was the sound of everyone’s cell phone booting up.

A month later, I had a 9000-word short-story about airport security. Taking place about 50 years in the future, it’s about a man traveling to Los Angeles to see his daughter and the rigmarole he has to go through.

It has yet to sell. I’ve cut down the word count, I’ve revised several times, I’ve sent it to a couple dozen publications… and no dice. No one seems to want it. (It almost made it to the top at Andromeda Spaceways, and the readers gave me good feedback, but they didn’t publish it.) I’m pretty sure it’s not getting bought because nothing actually happens — a man flies to Los Angeles to see his daughter – and editors I guess want stories where there’s action.

But that’s neither here nor there. Not at the moment.

Last Monday, as I sat at my desk at work watching post after post about security theater pass by on Tweetdeck, I felt a little spark of hope that my story might soon find a home.

Unfortunately, it often takes months for stories to get from the slush pile to the editorial desk.

I understand that. I really do. And I’m very patient – I follow the submission guidelines to the best of my ability, I never bother editors unless the official response time has passed by more than a full week, and I don’t complain about form rejections. The reality of writing is that there’s a metric buttload of us and a relatively small number of editors and markets.

Still, now that I’ve exhausted most of the long-story markets, it’s going to be harder for me to find a home for my story. I predict a long couple of nights of rewriting, followed by sending out the story… and waiting.

And waiting.

And waiting.

Just like every other burgeoning author.

Thing is, by the time my story gets to the top of the slush pile, the timeliness of it will probably be moot. All this hullabaloo about scanners that don’t detect bombs in body cavities, scanners that show screeners your naked body, fines being levied against people who refuse to be body-scanned and don’t want your hands on their junk… it’ll all be over in three, six, nine, or 12 months (or whenever the story eventually is read by an editor who wants it). Then it’ll be another three to 18 months until it actually sees print. At that point, we’ll have moved onto another cause celebre. Twitter will be complaining about the next Apple tablet that doesn’t do That One Thing Everyone Likes, or a politician who said That One Thing Everyone Thought Was Idiotic, or the fact that people without That One Smartphone are technological luddites who don’t deserve to pray at the altars of their mighty cellphone providers.

I’m okay with that. I really am. But it makes me wonder if I should mention in my cover letter that I wrote the story in response to airline security woes. Usually my cover letters are very simple: here is my story, I hope you like it and choose to publish it, thank you. (Soon they will include the location of my first professional publication, but until I have a contract in hand I’m not revealing it to a wider audience.) Would saying why I wrote a story help much? Would it give the slush reader the impetus to nudge it a little higher in the “stories for the editor to read” pile (provided the slush reader likes it enough to pass it on, of course)?

I don’t know. I’m not an editor. But I do know this: regardless of what happens with the story I’ve just been blogging about, I’m going to keep writing timely fiction, and if it gets published too late… well, I don’t think I’ll care, because it will get published.